White Sox

Ten years before he was elected to Hall of Fame, Jim Thome took a special trip to Cooperstown

Ten years before he was elected to Hall of Fame, Jim Thome took a special trip to Cooperstown

There are Hall of Fame players, and there are Hall of Fame people.

Jim Thome represents the rarest of breeds as someone who is actually both.

He's a man who brought the best of himself to the clubhouse and the baseball field every single day he wore a uniform.

He didn't know any other way to be, any other way to play.

This is only part of what made Thome so special. Of course, he was also supremely talented at hitting a baseball.

His power, swing and dedication (let's call it "obsession") to hitting helped produce those 612 home runs (eighth most all-time) as well as his 13 walk-off home runs, which remain a major league record.

White Sox fans will always remember the day Thome hit his 500th career homer in 2007. It was one of those 13 walk-offs, a towering blast against the Los Angeles Angels at U.S. Cellular Field, a moment cemented by Hawk Harrelson famously shouting into the microphone, "You're awesome big man!"

The fan who caught Thome's 500th home run ball, a man named Will Stewart who was visiting from Texas, gave the ball back to Thome in exchange for a few pieces of signed memorabilia and two season tickets the following year. Since Stewart couldn't use the tickets, he asked Thome to donate them to his favorite charity.

Fitting that the fan who caught Thome's 500th ball did the kind of thing Thome would do.

"I feel it is a part of Chicago baseball history," Stewart said.

As for Thome, he felt that baseball was bigger than Chicago history and bigger than him.

Almost immediately after getting the baseball in his possession, Thome decided that it didn't belong to him. It was meant to be somewhere else, a place where baseball history lives and now where Jim will be inducted in July: the Hall of Fame.

That following summer on a White Sox off day, Jim flew his dad and the baseball to Cooperstown to present that 500th home run ball to the Hall of Fame — and I tagged along with them.

"The baseball fans of America get to come here and experience all the great memorabilia and all the things that have happened during baseball, the pastime," Thome said that day. "That's why I thought it was important to bring it here, with Dad especially."

It was the first time Thome had ever set foot in the Hall of Fame. 

He received a tour of the shrine, stood in amazement looking at Babe Ruth's locker and carefully envisioned a day when he would become a Hall of Famer himself.

"I do dream about it," Thome said. "I guess that will all be answered later on. I try not to get ahead of myself with that, to be respectful to the game."

Good luck finding a baseball player respected more than Jim Thome. His time has come.

Watch Chuck Garfien's story from 2008 on Thome's visit to Cooperstown in the video above.

ESPN.com ranks White Sox MLB's worst rotation

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USA TODAY

ESPN.com ranks White Sox MLB's worst rotation

On Wednesday morning, ESPN.com released their rankings of all 30 MLB team's starting rotations. The rankings were a nod to the current structure of the rotation, as well as how they were likely to perform in the future. And that is why the Chicago White Sox being ranked dead last in the league is somewhat alarming. 

Overall, the White Sox rotation is 28th in WHIP and 29th in strikeouts. 

Lucas Giolito is currently the team leader in wins with four, but his ERA sits at an unsightly 7.19. James Shields has been decent in spurts, but a general lack of run support has limited his effectiveness. Carlos Rodon has been a mixed bag since returning, but was able to reach the seventh inning in his last start. This is encouraging considering that he hadn't made it that far in any of his previous three starts. And Reynaldo Lopez continues to rack up quality starts—much like Shields—but has two wins to show for it. 

Veteran players like closing pitcher Joakim Soria and Shields are sure to be hot names on the trade market, and that could go a long way towards bringing in additional prospects to build up the White Sox farm system, and lead to a much improved rotation in the future.

So the White Sox obviously deserve to be ranked lowly until they can groom their minor league starter prospects into MLB-ready staff members, something that looks like it could take longer than originally expected. Flame-throwing top prospect Michael Kopech is still amassing high strikeouts numbers, but he is walking over six batters per outing, showing an obvious issue with control. 

White Sox fans can take their mind off of ESPN ranking the team's rotation 30th in the league by turning their attention to Eloy Jimenez. He has been absolutely crushing it in Double-A Birmingham, and will likely be making his debut with the Triple-A Charlotte Knights on Saturday. That game will be live on NBC Sports Chicago. So sit back, relax and look forward to the future, wherever it may take White Sox faithful. 

White Sox Talk Podcast: Ask Us Anything Part 2

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USA TODAY

White Sox Talk Podcast: Ask Us Anything Part 2

In Part 2 of "Ask Us Anything" we answer the following questions: Who will be the biggest free agent the White Sox sign this off-season? What are the chances they trade Avi Garcia before the deadline? What's your assessment so far of Luis Robert?  Who's on your all-time busted prospect list? Is Omar Vizquel the next White Sox manager? Would the 1994 White Sox have won the World Series if there wasn't a strike?  What's the long term plan at third base? These questions and many more on this edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast.

If you missed Part 1 of 'Ask Us Anything', you can listen to the full episode here 

Listen to the full Part 2 of 'Ask Us Anything' at this link or in the embedded player below: